An Invitation to SHINTO Spiritualism
Every single component of the nature does have its own divine spirit, which gives us joy and benefit. And we have been praying for refreshed life through our close ties with the Mother Nature.
It is through this respect for the Nature that we have been able to cultivate our long spiritual tradition, and, consequently, history as a people.
We call them "eight million deities," because there are so many divine spirits enshrined at Shinto shrines. And these deities also are worshipped at millions of small family altars.
This faith is a result of the daily life of the Japanese-with shrines established and festivals organized by the people of each locality. As the expression "Pious Life" indicates, respect for deities is a major element of the daily life of the Japanese.
And that life symbolizes turning points of seasons-by conducting rituals and festivals, which historically characterized the culture and emotions of the Japanese people.
One of the most common greetings in Japanese is "okage-samade"-or "thanks to..."-without specifying who or what you are thankful about.
This typically represents how the Japanese feel about life-a very brief expression reflecting a sense to appreciate the benevolence of the nature and people in the community in general. And the nature and people have been evolving over ages to create our society today.
And, in Shinto, rituals and festivals typically symbolize people's appreciation for the benevolence and, equally important, aspiration for a modest life.
Let us look at Sumo wrestling, the world famous national pastime of Japan, for example. It originally was a ritual dedicated to Shinto deities. Surprised?
Above the ring-455 centimeters in diameter-hangs a ceremonial canopy exactly in the same shape and design of a Shinto shrine roofing.
A Yokozuna (Grand Champion) grandiosely enters the ring-wearing a "tsuna", a huge linen band, which is a derivative of Shinto's sacred border rope. And, from that "tsuna" hangs several "shide," sacred zig-zagged paper stripes.
Yes, sumo started as an entertainment offered to deities of Shinto.
A variety of rituals and festivals are conducted by each Shinto shrine throughout the year. In the spring festival, people pray for that year's rich harvest. In the autumn, villagers thank for the season's crops, for example.
In the hot summer festival, the community' prayer goes for driving away disasters and misfortune. In the winter festival, they pray for revival of yet another revival of life-and rich harvest-toward the coming spring.
What the Japanese specifically pray for at these rituals? It is, first, to appraise the benevolence of deities, and, by doing so, to wish a peaceful and modestly sufficient life.
The practice is crystallization of Japanese life-beyond age-inherited throughout the history.
January1 : Saitan-sai (New Year's Festival)
A festival held on the first day of the year. Welfare of parishioners and prosperity of the nation are prayed for.
February11 : Kigen-sai (Japan Foundation Day Festival)
Also called National Foundation Day Festival, this celebrates the birth of Japan and prays for further growth and prosperity of this country.
17 : Kinen-sai (Spring Festival for Harvest)
A festival to pray for rich harvest of five most important crops conducted shortly before the start of the farming season.
October15 : Kanname-sai (Harvest Thanksgiving Festival)
A festival to dedicate the year's rice harvest to Amaterasu-Omikami (the Sun Goddess) enshrined at the Grand Shrines of Ise. His Majesty the Emperor offers the rice-grown by him-to the Sun Goddess-and sends an Imperial Envoy to the Shrines.
Simultaneously, celebration rituals are conducted at Shinto shrines all over Japan.
November23 : Niname-sai (Festival of First Fruits)
A festival to thank deities by dedicating them the crops harvested in the year.
December23 : Tencho-sai (the Emperor's Birthday)
A festival to celebrate the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor. Initially legislated as a national holiday in 1873, and was designated again as "the Emperor's Birthday" in 1948 under a new law.
These are called "annual major festivals" and considered the most important rituals. Occasions related to enshrined deities are considered "annual major festivals".
The Grand Shrines of Ise, located in the Ise city, Mie prefecture, enshrines the ancestor of the Imperial Household-Amaterasu-Omikami, or the Sun Goddess-in the Inner Shrine (Naiku), and Toyouke-no-Omikami, the goddess of foods, clothes and housing, in the Outer Shrine, or Geku.
The Inner Shrine was built some 2,000 years ago during the reign of Emperor Suinin, the 11th emperor. It holds the Yata-no-kagami, one of the three most sacred treasures.
The Outer Shrine was built some 500 years later, during the reign of Emperor Yuryaku, the 21st monarch of the country. The deity enshrined, believed to be responsible for meals of the Sun Goddess, was moved from what is today's Hyogo prefecture to Ise.
The divine emblem of the Grand Shrines of Ise is called Jingu Taima. At the end of each year, the emblem is distributed to each worshipping family through local shrines for dedicating to household small altars together with amulets.
The "Regular Removal" takes place once every 20 years at the Grand Shrines of Ise.
The Regular Removal is a national ritual along with the ancient tradition to respectfully transfer Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) to a new shrine once very 20 years.
The Removal was decreed by Emperor Tenmu, and was first conducted in the year 690 a.d. during the reign of Emperor Jito. The ritual has history and tradition unmatched in the world.
It has long been playing an important role not only in preserving the country's tradition and history, but also in inheritance of traditional technologies. The next Removal (62nd) is scheduled for the year 2013.
This description is based on the sequence of the last (61st) Removal in 1993.
2005 : Yamaguchi-sai Festival-To pray for safety to the deity of the mountain where the divine lumbers are to be harvested.
Misoma-hajime-sai Festival-Lumbers for Mihishro--in which deities are enshrined-are harvested.
Mifunashiro-sai Festival-Lumbers for Mifunashiro-a boat-shaped casing in which the Mihishiro is enshried-are harvested in this festival.
2006 : Kozukuri-hajime Festival-Lumbers are marked and safety prayed for for the safety during the construction work.
2006-2007 : Okihiki Ritual-Residents of the former Shrine territories bring the divine lumbers into the two major Shrines in this solemn two-month ritual. Virtually all the residents participate in this event after purifying themselves by worshipping Futamigaura deities. Residents of other regions also can take part in this event, though on a short-term basis.
2008 : Chinchi-sai Festival-The first festival held at the site of the new Shrines. Similar to ground-breaking ceremonies at other construction sites.
2009 : Ujibashi-Watarihajime Ceremony-The Ujibashi Bridge at the entrance of the Shrines, the symbol of Ise-also is renewed, and "Watarime" maidens and three-generation husbands and wives cross the new bridge.
2012 : Ricchu-sai Festival-As constrution of the new Shrines start, people pray for safety and prosperity by striking ends of lumbers with wooden hammers.
Joto-sai Festival-A colorful festival to celebrate completion of the new main Shrine. People pull ropes tied to the beams and pillars, chanting prayers and striking these components with wooden hammers.
2013 : Oshirai-mochi Festival-Like Okihiki Festival, local residents and visitors from other regions participate. This time, they lay white pebbles on the venue of the Shrines and dedicate them to the just-completed main Shrine.
Kotsuki-sai Festival-A Festival to solidify the ground of the new Shrines. Participants chant ancient poems and strike the roots of the pillars.
Gochin-sai Festival-A festival to appreciate deities for completion of the new Shrines.
Kawara-Oharai Festival-Prior to the real transfer of deities to the new Shrines, divine treasures, priests and other participants are purified at the bank of the river in venue.
Sengyo-Transfer of the deities to the new Shrines. The most important event of the Regular Removal. At 8 p.m. (the last Removal), in total and purified darkness with all the lights put off, the Great Deity leaves the old Shrine and moves into the new Shrine. More than 100 priests and worshippers accompany in what can be called a great ancient panorama.
Shinto festivals are not limited to shrines-they are also conducted in families. People set up altars at the center of their house, the spiritual residence of their ancestors, to which they thank for the daily life and pray for peace.
To respect deities and cherish ancestors have been the faith of the Japanese. This has been a household belief inherited for many years until today. All in the family pray for that, in the morning and in the evening, the holiest moments of the day.
At the end of the year as the New Year approaches, each family returns the divine emblem to the deity of its neighborhood shrine, and receives a new emblem. It prays for fresh, new life so that the coming year will be yet another safe one.
A New Year exactly is a moment when the energy of deities fills the household.
New Year worshipping at Shrines, the "Setsubun" ritual to drive off evil spirits, and "Tanabata" Festival in summer, where a male and female deities can meet just once every year-these are all annual rituals inherited by the Japanese for so many years.
They enable the Japanese to appreciate benefits of each and every season, enjoy flora and fauna, and rejoice family life.
A variety of seasonal festivals and rituals are also seen in many different localities of this country, symbolizing Japanese mindset as well as wisdom of their ancestors.
The Japanese are holding rituals and events at major turning points their entire life. Here are some of the typical examples.
Chakutai no Iwai (Prayer for Safe Birth) :
The Japanese often consider a baby is a divine gift from deities, and a prospective mother wears a band to pray for safe birth and visits a shrine in her fifth month of pregnancy.
Ubuyu (Birth and Bath) :
Immediately after baby is born, parents have him/her bathe in what is called "Ubuyu", made of local water from a neighborhood shrine.
Oshichiya (Seventh Evening After Birth) and Naming :
On this day, parents name the baby and have the baby wear the first clothes.
Hatsumiya Mairi (First Visit to a Shrine) :
In this ritual in which a newly-born baby makes the first visit to a shrine, parents report the birth and thank to deities. The father and mother also pray that the deities keep close eyes on their child's healthy growth.
Okuizome (Imitation First Meal) :
Some 100 days after a bay is born, in prayer that the baby will be able to eat always sufficiently, parents prepare an imitation celebration meal and pretend to have the baby eat it in this ritual.
Hatsuzekku (Baby's First Seasonal Festival) :
There are five major "Sekku"-or Zekku-Festivals per year in Japan. When the first Sekku comes after a baby's birth, parents pray for his/her healthy growth.
Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) Festival :
When a child becomes seven-, five- and three-year-old they are dressed in beautiful costumes and visit shrine with all in the family. Parents thank for deities for healthy growth of the child so far, and pray for their further growth.
School Enrollment, Graduation and Job :
Enrollment into school, graduation and job placement, of course, are major turning points in the life of the Japanese. They visit local shrines and pray for further protection.
Seijin-shiki (Coming-of-the Age Ceremony) :
At 20 years old, both men and women go to worship local deities, report that they have of the age and celebrate.
Shinzen Kekkon (Shinto Wedding) :
Wedding obviously is the most delightful opportunity in one's life. Thanking deities-divine ties-for tying the knot, the newly weds pledge they will build a happy family and work for prosperity of their descendants.
Yakudoshi (Ages of Troubles) :
In Shinto, there are "ages of troubles," too. Generally speaking, ages 25, 42 and 61 are for men, 19, 33 and 37 for women. One year before one gets to these ages are called "pre-trouble," and a year after "post-trouble". On these occasions, people visit shrines, get purification, and pray for health.
Toshi-iwai (Age Celebration) :
The Japanese celebrate turning points in age by the calendar year. Kanreki (61), Koki (70), Kiju (77), Sanju (80), Beiju (88) and Sotsuju (90) are among these celebrations.
Wedding Anniversary :
A couple thanks to deities that it has been able to live lovingly and healthily, and renew it oath.
Shinsou-sai (Shinto Funeral) :
This refers to a funeral conducted in the Shinto ritual.
Mitama (Spiritual) Festival :
A memorial festival for the deceased. It starts a day after a person succumbed-Yokujitsu-sai-followed by10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th and 100th day festivals. Generally, after 50 days, mourning is considered lifted.
1 : New Year's Day*-Called Ganjitsu, but the morning of the New Year's Day has another name. What it implies is welcome deities at home and offer -and entertain-them with special delicacies.
7 : Nanakusa (seven vegetables)-After a streak of New Year celebrations, the seventh day of the New Year is considered a day of "back to normal life". On the morning of this day, people eat porridge with seven wild vegetables in, and pray for health and longevity.
11 : Kagami-biraki : Two round-shaped rice cakes, big and small, dedicated to deities for the New Year, are once again decorated-with citrus, kelp and fern.
15 : Koshogatsu (Lesser New Year's Day) : This day is also called the Second New Year's Day, or Junior New Year's Day.
Around 3 : Setsubun : To drive off the evil, people spray homes with beans, and decorate the entrance with a mistletoe with the head of a sardine on top.
Next Day of Setsubun : Risshun (start-of-the-spring Day) : One day after Setsubun, around February 4, the spring starts on the Japanese calendar.
3 : Hinamatsuri Festival (Ritual of Peach) : Originated in ancient days' "Joushi Ritual", this is considered a festival for young girls. Since several hundred years ago, families decorate the home with "Hina Dolls", a group of dolls clad in kimonos of old Imperial Court, peach flowers and rice cakes.
Around 21 : the Spring Equinox Day (Shunbun no Hi)* : Around March 21, the sun rises from due east and sets in due west, making the lengths of day and night equal. On this day, people visit the graves to pray to their ancestors.
From end-March to April: Hanami (Watch-the-Blossom Outing) : The origin of this national pastime-cherry blossom watching-is thought to be an old practice of outing to mountains and beaches with plentiful of delicacies. Around this period, preparation starts for rice planting.
Around 5 : Rikka (Start of Summer)
5 : Tango Festival* : Considered a festival for young boys. Over the last several hundred years, families with kid boys decorate homes with huge windsocks in the shape of carp (Koi-nobori), miniature samurai armors and dolls of warriors in prayer for their healthy growth.
Around 21 : Geshi (the Summer Solstice) : The day when the daytime is the longest and nighttime shortest.
30 : Nagoshi-no-Oharae (Major Purification Over the Summer) Ritual : At this turning point in the middle of the year, the Japanese purify themselves to get rid of sins and impurity.
7 : Tanabata (Seventh-of-the-Month Evening) Festival : Initially, it was a ritual in which maidens called "Tanabata-me" dedicated woven clothes to altars-deities-and purified the vicinities with bamboo leaves. This practice later combined with a Chinese mythÅ\that Vega, or "Orihime", (goddess of weaving), just once a year, crosses the Milky Way to meet Altair, or "Hikoboshi", (her husband)-and also aspiration to improve skill as seamstresses, making this festival one of the most popular in Japan.
Early August : Risshu (Start of the Autumn)
13-16 : Obon (the Festival for the Ancestors) : One of the two vitally important rituals of the year Japan, together with the New Year Celebration. Families welcome the homecoming of ancestors, entertain and please them, and then sendthem back. Depending on localities, it is either August 13-16 or July 13-16.
9 : Choyo no Sekku (Double-Happiness Day) : "Nine" is considered the biggest and the most positive number in Japan. Consequently, if two "nines" are combined on the lunar calendar, it fully deserves major celebration. This occasion is also called "Chrysanthemum Festival".
From mid-September to early October: Jugo-ya
(Fifteenth-of-the-Month Celebration, or Moon-Watching Event) : Originally, on the lunar calendar, it was the evening of August 15 on the lunar calendar-mid-September to late-October on the current one-was called Jugo-ya when the moon looks the most beautiful. The moon on this evening is also called the "Mid-autumn Super Moon," and people thank for the year's harvest by offering rice cakes, panpas grasses (the symbol of the autumn) and potatoes.
Around 23 : Shubun-no-hi (the Autumn Equinox Day)* : People, as they did on the Spring Equinox Day), visit their ancestors' graves to express respect.
mid- to late-October (September 13 on the lunar calendar) :
Jusan-ya (Thirteenth-of-the-Month Day) : The moon on the lunar calendar September 13th is thought to be the most beautiful next to that on Jugo-ya. People dedicate to deities beans and chestnuts.
Early this month : Rittoh: the Start of the Winter
Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) Festival : when a child becomes seven- five- and three-years old, parents take him/her to a shrine to pray for growth and health.
13 : Susuharai (Clean up the sooot) Ritual : Before one celebrates the New Year, he/she clean up Shinto and Buddhist altars with bamboos bamboo leaves.
Around 22: the Winter Solstice : the daytime is the shortest, and the nighttime the longest on this date.
31 : O'harae (Grand Purification) Ritual : On the final day of the year, people purify themselves to rid of sins and impurity so that they can have a clean New Year.
Temizu (Water on the Palms)
When you visit a shrine, the first thing to do is to go to a wooden water reservoir and wash your palms and mouth to purify yourself. Clean water is believed to remove impurity. This ritual is a simplified version of full body bathing.
Here is how to proceed :
- First, purify your left palm.
- Then, purify your right palm.
- Pour water on your left palm, and rinse your mouth.
- Once again pour water on your left palm.
- Hold the dipper vertically, and rinse it with remaining water.
At a shrine or family, when you worship deities, the Two-Two-One practice is applied: two bows, to claps and one bow.
Here is how to proceed :
- Stand straight, and bend your body 90 degrees for the two bows.
- Clap twice while keeping your hands in front of your chest.
- Bow once again.
Tamagushi (A Ritual Branch)
Tamagushi is a "Sakaki" evergreen branch tied to "Shide," a zigzagged white stripe of paper. To dedicate Tamagushi and worship deities is the orthodox manner.
Here is how to proceed :
- Receive a Tamagushi, turn the tip of the leaf clockwise by 90 degrees.
- Lower your left hand and hold the stem side.
- Turn the Tamagushi further until the stem faces the side of deities.
- Step forward and place the Tamagushi on the dedicated platform.
- Then, step back a bit, bow twice, clap twice and then bow once again.